Time Travel in Osaka: The Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses

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Note: This is an excerpt from a column I co-write for the Japan Times newspaper.

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Time Travel in Osaka

Life in Japan has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. In the span of a few generations, millions of Japanese left the countryside and moved into urban and suburban sprawl. Unfortunately, for city kids like mine, the connection to rural farm life is tenuous at best. Even so, we feel that it’s still important to keep that connection.

Luckily, Japan is full of opportunities to look into the past.

One worth recommending is Osaka’s Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses. Here you’ll find over 35,000 square meters of walking paths surrounded by maple, cherry and other trees. Along these paths you’ll find 12 rebuilt, refurbished or restored structures from Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). Some date from the 19th century, others from as early as the 17th.

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The Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses

This is Japan’s first open air museum, and its exhibits are authentic buildings that you can enter and experience for yourself. There’s something special about stepping into a museum exhibit instead of viewing things in photographs or from behind glass.

Entering these former homes can be a transportive exercise, where kids can utilize their imagination and sense of the past.

There are farmhouses from prefectures as far south as Kagoshima and as far north as Iwate. Every one was painstakingly disassembled, moved and rebuilt on the park’s grounds. Each has a unique style and design suited for the weather, geography and culture of the region where it originated.

For example, the house from Yamato Totsukawa village in Nara Prefecture is fortified with a strong roof to withstand the wind of the valley, while the “L” shape of the Iwate farmhouse allowed residents to check on their stable animals in winter without the need to step out into the snow.

The diversity in building styles and materials for these houses is fascinating. The Nara farmhouse looks like something from the set of an old samurai movie. The farmhouse from Shinano Akiyama in Nagano Prefecture, with its thatched walls and arched roof, could pass for a wizard’s lair.

The entire article can be found at the Japan Times website.

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